While the story of the Frog Princess is not as well known as that of the Frog Prince, it is a classic tale and my youngest has taken to this version like, well, a frog to water. A queen realizes her three rather foolish sons need “sensible wives,” so she has each shoot off an arrow, telling them they will find their bride where their arrow lands. Two of the princes find brides suited to their interests (food and clothing), but the youngest (a dreamer) finds only “a little green frog.” When the queen declares the son with the cleverest bride will become king after her, does the youngest stand a chance? (Of course he does.)
Author: Emma Chichester Clark
Illustrator: Laura Cecil
My youngest is fascinated by this one. It is a story of transformation (straw into gold, miller’s daughter into queen, callow girl into loving mother), which is why the awful, egocentric miller and king mostly don’t register (they’re walking plot devises). The Grimm’s version of this tale changed many times and Paul O. Zelinsky’s uses all of the best parts (including an ending where Rumpelstiltskin does not pay for his good deeds with his life).
Author: Paul O. Zelinsky/The Grimm Brothers
Illustrator: Paul O. Zelinsky
There was once a good shoemaker
who became very poor.
At last he had only one piece of leather
to make one pair of shoes.
“Well,” said the shoemaker to his wife,
“I will cut the leather tonight
and make the shoes in the morning.”
The story that follows is full of craftsmanship, thoughtfulness, generosity, good fortune, and magic. I loved this book as a child (my mom bought it from someone going door-to-door pulling a wagon full of used books, if I remember correctly) and the boys really enjoy it now.
Author: Freya Littledale/The Grimm Brothers
Illustrator: Brinton Turkle
This is the version of Cinderella I remember from my own childhood; I never forgot the golden dress and was thrilled to find this copy. My youngest loves fairy tales and we enjoy reading them together. This retelling hits all of the notes you would expect (pumpkin, fairy godmother, transformation) while leaving out the gory bits (we’re going to be waiting a number of years before reading the Grimm Brothers’ version). Most importantly, this book is so beautiful he doesn’t miss Disney’s talking mice.
Author: Eveyln Andreas/The Grimm Brothers/Charles Perrault
Illustrator: Ruth Ives
I began hunting down these books well before the boys were born. I stumbled on one (Fruit? Colors? I really don’t remember) and completely fell for their simple yet brilliant design–regular page, transparent page, regular page. For example, in The Rain Forest when you first open the book you see only lush, green plants. Turn the transparent page and suddenly the animals and birds that have been hiding behind the plants burst into view.
The boys really enjoy non-fiction books and I gravitate to fiction, so these have been a great way to balance the scales a bit. They are great for nap time and for paging through alone because their spiral bindings and very strong pages mean they are about as durable as board books. Plus, their constant surprises help non-readers fully engage in what is going on. We currently have (gulp) at least 35 books in the series (I can’t be certain I found all of them for the photo shoot) yet I still pick up more whenever I can. Many of the books in the series are out of print in English, but they are fairly easy to find online. Both my boys consistently prefer the Airplanes and Flying Machines and Castles books above all the others, although Boats has been a recent favorite.
For years I’ve heard about the beloved Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse! but I’ve never been able to find a copy that wasn’t selling for hundreds of dollars. (I’m still looking, if anyone has a hot lead!) But I’m very grateful to Ms. Mouse; she led me to my oldest son’s very favorite book: The Elephant’s Airplane and Other Machines. Doris Susan Smith illustrated both books and her work is amazingly intricate and creative. The story (translated from the original French) is really mostly an excuse for the illustrations; animals come from far and wide to Raccoon, Maker of Fine Machines, to order the custom-built machines of their dreams. My son’s favorites include an underwater speed boat for The Deep Diving Platypus and a traveling home for Rabbit the Explorer. Personally, I’m particularly fond of the heated snowmobile for A Most Unusual Lizard. Though it is out of print, this book is easy to find and is absolutely worth the effort.
Author: Anne-Marie Dalmais
Illustrator: Doris Susan Smith